McCain’s “Rogue State Rollback” Sounds Like John Foster Dulles & Curtis LeMay


mccain flak.jpg
My colleague and friend Anatol Lieven published a no-punches pulled critique of John McCain’s foreign policy and national security probabilities in the Financial Times today, titled “Why We Should Fear a McCain Presidency.”
Lieven makes a point I did recently: McCain used to be considered “an old-style conservative realist.” I suggested that McCain’s Nixonian DNA had gone underground. But the kind of realism McCain used to demonstrate is not old-style. It’s making a comeback in hybrid form, tempered somewhat by a less harsh calculation of state interests and leavened by concern about progressive goals and objectives. Lieven himself makes this point in his excellent book, Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World.
I remain befuddled by McCain’s policy positions. I have long admired McCain on many fronts and like the maverick in him. There are many parts of his profile that I am in complete sync with. However, on the biggest issue of the Iraq War, I differ from him as well as on his seemingly desired Iran War. I keep hoping that we will see evidence eventually that the McCain we have been seeing lately is more veneer than deep — but even veneer can’t be written off easily. This country can’t afford more “wars of choice” and is badly prepared to deal with the type of war in which America has no choice.

We are in a weakened position because our enemies see our limits — and our allies, seeing the same, don’t count on the U.S. as much as they once did. No nations in the world think America is more able today to achieve its objectives internationally than was the case before the Bush administration. And John McCain, much to my own dismay, is suggesting a national security course for the nation more strident and detached from reality than that which the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney cabal was promulgating.
John McCain apparently thinks he can win by stirring up the storms of pugnacious nationalism and fear — and calling for “rogue state rollback” in much the same tenor that John Foster Dulles and Curtis LeMay talked casually about “massive retaliation” against and “Rollback” of the Soviet Union.
I’m less strident in my critique of McCain than Anatol Lieven, mostly because I have heard directly from him different sorts of approaches to and framing of what America’s foreign policy should look like, but I agree with Lieven today on much of his argument.
Here is a clip:

It may seem incredible to say this, given past experience, but a few years from now Europe and the world could be looking back at the Bush administration with nostalgia. This possibility will arise if the US elects Senator John McCain as president in November.
Over the years the US has inserted itself into potential flashpoints in different parts of the world. The Republican party is now about to put forward a natural incendiary as the man to deal with those flashpoints.
The problem that Mr McCain poses stems from his ideology, his policies and above all his personality. His ideology, like that of his chief advisers, is neo-conservative. In the past, Mr McCain was considered to be an old-style conservative realist. Today, the role of the realists on his team is merely decorative.
Driven in part by his intense commitment to the Iraq war, Mr McCain has relied more on neo-conservatives such as his close friend William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor. His chief foreign policy advisor is Randy Scheunemann, another leading neo-conservative and a founder of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Mr McCain shares their belief in what Mr Kristol has called “national greatness conservatism”. In 1999, Mr McCain declared: “The US is the indispensable nation because we have proven to be the greatest force for good in human history . . . We have every intention of
continuing to use our primacy in world affairs for humanity’s benefit.”
Mr McCain’s promises, during last week’s visit to London, to listen more to America’s European allies, need to be taken with a giant pinch of salt. There is, in fact, no evidence that he would be prepared to alter any important US policy at Europe’s request.
Reflecting the neo-conservative programme of spreading democracy by force, Mr McCain declared in 2000: “I’d institute a policy that I call ‘rogue state rollback’. I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments.” Mr McCain advocates attacking Iran if necessary in order to prevent it developing nuclear weapons, and last year was filmed singing “Bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”.

— Steve Clemons


22 comments on “McCain’s “Rogue State Rollback” Sounds Like John Foster Dulles & Curtis LeMay

  1. Kathleen says:

    JamesL.. exactly so. All the Bible thumpers foaming at the mouth about Islam haven’t a clue about doing unto others, turning the other cheek, or loving their enemies. That part of Christianity is out the window.


  2. Eurobserver says:

    Very good post, Dan Kervick. IMV, “Opponent” has some right points (the diagnosis), and some completely wrong points (the treatment).
    On the one hand, if Europe sticks to its immigration policies, in 50 years we’ll probably see the Republique Islamique Francaise. Already the suburbs of Paris are in a state of continous intifada. Google “The Fjordman Files” on this subject.
    On the other hand, expanding the US military presence in the Middle East and launching “a pro-active, pre-emptive military campaign” would be absolutely and completely useless, unless they truly exterminate Muslims so that no more immigrants arrive to Europe. (You will probably see gasoline glowing at night in that case.)
    The only solution is: no Christians in Muslim countries (and I do mean evacuating all Christians from Iraq) and no Muslims in Christian countries (and I do mean religious screening on immigrants and tourists).
    The only problem is: there are no longer Christian countries.


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:
    Free Ride: John McCain and the Media
    We live in a “gotcha” media culture that revels in exposing the foibles and hypocrisies of our politicians. But one politician manages to escape this treatment, getting the benefit of the doubt and a positive spin for nearly everything he does: John McCain. Even during his temporary decline in popularity in 2007, the media continued to bolster him by lamenting his fate rather than criticizing the flip-flops and politicking that undermined his media-driven image as a “straight talker.”
    In Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, David Brock and Paul Waldman show how the media have enabled McCain’s rise from the Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal to the underdog hero of the 2000 primaries to his roller-coaster run for the 2008 nomination. They illuminate how the press falls for McCain’s “straight talk” and how the Arizona senator gets away with inconsistencies and misrepresentations for which the media skewer other politicians.
    The media is particularly found of the myth that John McCain is the senatorial thorn in the side of Washington lobbyists. This myth is pervasive and it suggests that McCain is the “maverick, moderate reformer” that he claims to be. Despite all of his posturing, McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign is rife with lobbyist connections.
    Not only does the McCain campaign have more current and former lobbyist bundlers than any other candidate, but McCain has more current and former lobbyists working on his campaign staff than any other candidate in the 2008 presidential election. Media Matters for America has previously catalogued the extensive number of lobbyists and their deep connections to industries, such as the communication and financial industries, which McCain oversaw as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.


  4. JamesL says:

    Those who hype the fear of Islam and encourage military action seem to be uniformly stunted in one aspect of imagination: thinking about what their personal actions would be as a recipient of the the conditions America induces around the world. What would you do to protect yourself and your family if you had no security, or food, or livelihood, or home? It’s a fair question. Faced with such, those who wish to blame Islam quickly change the scope to international levels, far far from ordinary lives, and make it into a battle of good and evil. The plain fact is that most Americans, confronted with those conditions, having been more than forbearing and patient, and with no change in sight, would do exactly what Iraqis have done, in the plethora of individual and often perplexing actions we have seen. Armchair militarists urging America to flex its formerly bulging military muscles who would like me to listen to their spiel are going to have to begin with a personal, realistic, thoughtful reflection on what they would do in those same situations for me to listen. But they never get around to it. Remember the Alamo, or the WTC, inflames their guts. Remember Fallujah does not. It should.


  5. questions says:

    Re Dan Kervick,
    My quibble, I think, is that the “facts on the ground” are always subject to interpretation. Empirical work exists within a theoretical framework rather than independent from it. So you and your opponent can’t really be brought together by knowing the number of terrorists out there, their real capabilities, the number of governments really supporting them and so on. More likely, someone who is frightened of death, expecially of the “wrong” death (say, having to jump out the 97th story window to avoid burning to death) is going to flip out if there is ANY POSSIBLE challenge to his/her world view in the form of communism/islamofacsism/socialism or any other ism. Such a frightened person will decide that any vaguely remote threat is “worth the cost”. A blithe person might never worry about war. A total empath will feel the pain of the families of the war dead and so on. There is, then, a lot more going on than a debate about the facts. If ideology can be described as a culturally specific set of responses to right and wrong deaths (hmmm, have to think about that stretch!) then the debate is ideological. But you could probably use a lot of other terms to describe what you and your opponent are getting at when you argue against or for the war. In my view, though, “facts” isn’t really one of the operative terms. Would like to hear a response as I think out loud!


  6. Bowtiejack says:

    A gentle suggestion to all of the press: the next time you are doing an article about McCain and start to type “maverick”, pause for a moment, type “loose cannon” instead and see if that helps clear your thinking.


  7. weldon berger says:

    “I keep hoping that we will see evidence eventually that the McCain we have been seeing lately is more veneer than deep …”
    You have it exactly backward, Steve. The McCain you admire is the veneer.


  8. Linda says:

    A couple of years ago I happened to watch “Dr. Strangelove” when it was on TV. It not only holds up very well, but when Jack D. Ripper is holed up in his last stand with Peter Sellars as Group Captain Mandrake, there is an exchange about torture that I’d never noticed before. I just found it on-line:
    General Jack D. Ripper: Were you ever a prisoner of war?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well, yes I was, matter of fact, Jack, I was.
    General Jack D. Ripper: Did they torture you?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, yes they did. I was tortured by the Japanese, Jack, if you must know; not a pretty story.
    General Jack D. Ripper: Well, what happened?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Oh, well, I don’t know, Jack, difficult to think of under these conditions; but, well, what happened was they got me on the old Rangoon-Ichinawa railway. I was laying train lines for the bloody Japanese puff-puff’s.
    General Jack D. Ripper: No, I mean when they tortured you did you talk?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Ah, oh, no… well, I don’t think they wanted me to talk really. I don’t think they wanted me to say anything. It was just their way of having a bit of fun, the swines. Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras.
    It really is chilling to view this scene today as it’s during the part where Mandrake is doing anything he can to try to calm Ripper and stop him. Of course, in 1964, it played a lot differently. We didn’t torture then, and we now don’t even make good cameras.


  9. Mr.Murder says:

    Lindsey Graham looks like Gazoo next to McCain in that picture. No wonder the old fella was saying cartoonish things.
    Be sure to send him one in honor of his trips the the Baghdad bazaar.
    Bazaar-o world foreign policy.


  10. Mr.Murder says:

    John McCake and George Bush celebrating the Maverick’s b-day while NOLA drowned.
    They helped drown reality’s baby in the bathwater.


  11. How Insane Is John McCain? says:

    The real question is, how is McCain dealing with our homegrown Potato Head menace?


  12. Jason W says:

    Dan K., that was the best blog comment I’ve read in a month.
    What does it say about our society that empiricism and rationality are alien tools to so many of our thinkers today, and seemingly undervalued (if valued at all) in our debates?
    For me, ideology is the mark of people who make a set of assumptions about the world rather than examine how it really is. It’s a collection of related beliefs whose root basis is assumptions often taken at face value and accepted as “true” or “right” without the rigorous questioning and examination needed to back up such claims.
    In that sense, while I wouldn’t call McCain’s beliefs part of a specific ideology, I do think they are reflective of ideology in general as they are based more on assumptions than empirical evidence.
    One can debate whether objective truth exists, but if it does exist, the way to get closest to “truth” is what you call for: gathering empirical research and basing one’s argument off that research, rather than assumptions of how the world works.
    I don’t how to reduce the influence of ideology and a priori thinking in politics (and humanity), but I can’t think of a better way to improve the decisions we make.


  13. Jim says:

    From fiscal responsibility to immigration to torture, is there a
    major issue that Senator Maverick E. Straighttalk hasn’t flip-
    flopped on, other than his obsessive desire to bomb the Bad
    People into submission?


  14. TonyForesta says:

    “Primacy” and “exceptionalism” are wingnutsia code words the fascists in the government “disuse” to paint lipstick on the pig that is actually supremist America.
    A select cabal of American supremists, – the fascists in the Bush government, – the socalled neocons, the vulcans and their legions of private military, intelligence, and media contractors enforcing their unholy will and bloody costly way on the rest of the world, and Americans through the terrible swift sword of America’s hypersuperior military, without restraint or any recognition of the rule of law, the Constitution, the best interests of the American people, or the principles that formally defined our once more perfect union, – and prosecute these crimes and ruthless rape of the Constitution accountable to no one, untouchable, proclaiming kingsrights to operate above, beyond, outside, and in total disdain of the the rule of law, the peoples trust, or the Constitution immune, uncontestable, Olympian, supremist.
    While select cabals, klans, cronies and oligarchs in, or beholden to the fascists in the Bush government profiteer wantonly in and from the insidious, insular, and incesstuous warmaking process, – the crippling costs in blood and treasure and monsterous debts of the Hegelian dynamic and viscious crime scene that is Iraq, are recklessly and heartlessly heaped upon the shoulders of America’s children, born and unborn.
    A vote for McCain is a vote for the fascists and the unabated perpetuation of the exact same crimes, perversions, betrayals, abuses, failures, malfeasance, wanton profiteering, and TREASON bruted, advanced, and practiced by the fascists in the Bush government.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  15. pen Name says:

    That John McCain can sing glibly and publicly about bombing a sovereign state that is not a threat to the United States nor is seeking a war with the United States without consequence is a testament to the utter debasement of politics in the United States and the complete inward looking attitude of the American electorate.
    You are a very dangerous people, both to yourselves and to others.


  16. JohnH says:

    Yes, “the foreign policy community as a whole is perhaps a bit too enamored of spurious philosophical debates, and grand doctrines.” Yes, but these debates do provide realists and neo-cons alike with a cover story couched in noble rhetoric to disguise the underlying economic agenda of the United States in the ME.
    Instead of a scientific outlook from our foreign policy “professionals,” we need someone with integrity to stand up and tell us what this war is really about, and what a barrel of oil really costs once “defense” costs are added to the cost of oil imports. Then we need serious economists to engage the public in a debate about the best way to fuel the American economy.


  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I can’t believe that people, including Steve, are so willing to disregard McCain’s recent departure from reality when he declared to the world how safe Bagdad was.
    It was like he visited main street in Disneyland, high on mescaline, and when he came down his handlers tricked him into believing he’d been in Bagdad.
    Gads, the guy is obviously living in Bushworld, where reality dare not intrude. Remember Castenada’s “Separate Reality”? Well, these wackjobs are in permanent residence.


  18. Spunkmeyer says:

    Steve, John McCain cannot honestly be considered a “maverick”
    since his days of the 2000 presidential campaign.


  19. Dan Kervick says:

    I wonder whether it is accurate to peg the deficiencies in McCain’s worldview to “ideology”. There is a tendency by pundits, academics and think-tankers to turn a lot of contemporary political disagreements, especially in the area of foreign policy, into grand disputes about ideology or philosophy. But having debated many of these issues with hawks and right-wingers of my acquaintance, I have come away with the impression that philosophy is the smallest part of the disagreement. A much more important source of disagreement is dispute over the empirical facts.
    Look at it this way: Whether one is a realist, a liberal internationalist, a socialist internationalist, a nationalist, a mercantilist, a neoconservative, a civic republican, a corporatist or some other creature in the ideological menagerie, one will agree that there comes a point when one has to fight to defend oneself and one’s interests, if faced with a severe enough threat. Similarly, whether one is a realist, a liberal internationalist, a socialist internationalist, a nationalist, a mercantilist, a neoconservative, a civic republican, a corporatist or whatever, one will agree that there are many cases when it is stupid to incur the human and material costs of large-scale war, if the opposing threat is not very severe, and if one’s interests can be more effectively pursued by other means.
    The question, then, is often just what situation we are in. When I debate the whole Middle East mess with people I know who defend the Bush decisions and plan of action, we don’t usually end up arguing about capitalism vs. socialism, internationalism vs. nationalism, or realism vs. idealism. What we argue about is what exactly is happening out there in the great big world, and the Middle Eastern corner thereof.
    I have had several discussions, online and in person, that go roughly like this:
    “When it comes to the so-called war on terror, what we’re really talking about a few tens of thousands of hard core jihadists and militants. Most of them are cash-strapped and resource-strapped. A lot of them are all talk and no action. But some of them are truly dangerous. We deal with them through a combination of legal and military means, gathering and sharing intelligence with other countries and their law enforcement agencies. We apprehend them and interrogate them when possible, kill them via covert operations when there is no other practical alternative. Occasionally, some of these characters may succeed in producing some spectacular terrorist event. Hopefully we are able to identify them, spy on them and interdict them before that happens. But we won’t always succeed. There is no short-term fix or conventional military solution to this problem. It’s a persistent nuisance we’re just going to have to deal with for a long time. But we appear to have the problem roughly in hand. There have been no major terrorist attacks on the United States since September, 2001, and there have only been a handful of significant attacks in Europe.”
    “We face a massive global Islamic movement of Hitlerian, world-historic proportions. The movement is similar to the fascist movement that swept parts of the world in the 30’s and 40’s, and was part of the cause of WWII. And it is just as dangerous. This movement is on the verge of taking over Europe via demographic displacement, as the European continent is morally and spiritually sick and decadent. The movement aims to establish a new global Caliphate, and if it succeeds in that aim we are doomed to World War at least, and possibly civilization collapse and defeat. Defeating this movement is thus the moral and spiritual challenge of our generation. It requires a pro-active, pre-emptive military campaign fought across a number of fronts. It requires the pre-emptive destruction of military capability in hostile states. It requires taking down a number of these hostile states and replacing their regimes with less hostile regimes. It will probably require the occupation of several countries by American or Western troops for decades, the construction of major new military bases in the regions of concern, sizeable and sustained increases in military budgets, and a prolonged increase in the size of the military. It also requires an aggressive geostrategy that will guarantee us access to the resources we need to fight this long war, and protect us from the potential threat posed by rising economic competitors to the economic supremacy the US needs to maintain its commanding position in this global struggle. The struggle is a true war, and is destined to go on for many decades, unless our will and determination fail.”
    “You’re completely overreacting to a single traumatic terrorist attack. The threat is simply not so grand and powerful as you are painting it.”
    “You’re wrong. Haven’t you read the rhetoric that these jihadists produce? The picture I have painted is the global plan they, themselves have described.”
    “Rhetoric is not capability. The fact that some guys chat of the internet and in a few European cafes about rebuilding a global Caliphate does not make their chatter a viable threat. There is no Muslim power with the industrial capacity to pose a Hitler-like menace to the West.”
    “Once they take over Europe, they will possess that capacity.”
    “You’re a paranoid fanatic. You have an outlandishly exaggerated picture of the scope and capabilities of the jihadist movement.”
    “That’s what Chamberlain thought. Free Europe and America failed to act in the thirties, until it was too late. We’ve already started the job with Iraq. We must next take down Iran, and quickly – before they build a nuclear capability.”
    “Why? Iran is a post-revolutionary country moving toward stable membership in the world community. Its chief national aims appear to be to grow economically, to deter foreign aggression, and to stabilize its neighborhood. It has no troops of any note operating outside its borders. And its proxies in the region, like Hizbollah, seem geared toward maintaining a deterrent check on Israeli expansion or aggression. In any case, there is a US presence in just about every country on Iran’s border. Military action is neither justified for nor required. It would be very costly for us, and would immorally kill thousands of people without warrant. We should follow a policy of constructive engagement instead, and make an opening to Iran.”
    “No, Iran is an aggressive, expansionist power, determined to establish hegemony in the Middle East and export its Islamic revolution throughout the region, and beyond. It is determined to achieve nuclear weapons capability. Once it has them, it will either seek to attack and destroy Israel forthwith, or at least hold Israel nuclear hostage so it can dictate terms to us. If we appease them now, it will be too late. It is very unfortunate that pre-emptive attack will kill thousands. But it is better to kill thousands now than millions later. Constructive engagement would only provide Iran with a dangerous breathing space to pursue its aggressive plans without check, and we would be giving them the rope they will ultimately use to hang us.”
    …. And so it goes with the debate. Notice that the terms of the debate really do not touch on any deep ideological disagreements. It’s just a dispute about what is actually happening in the world. If I believed that the threat of the jihadist movement was as dire as my opponent believes, that it was necessary to crush this jihadist movement utterly now or face a Fourth Reich moving to dominate the world, I would probably be moved to act as forcefully as he is. And if my opponent believed the problem was as limited and manageable as I believe, he might very well adopt the far less costly, less militaristic, less risk-prone and less confrontational approach I favor. The debate really has nothing to do with the differences among Kennan, Morgenthau, Dulles, Niebuhr, Wilson or Hammarskjöld.
    As I said, it seems to me that the foreign policy community as a whole is perhaps a bit too enamored of spurious philosophical debates, and grand doctrines. I was an academic philosopher for many years, so I recognize the symptoms. A lot of people in the foreign policy community seem drawn by Big Ideas, ivory tower abstractions, and a love of onanistic theoretical noodling about the latest theories of realism, internationalism etc., along with highly abstract and largely vacuous “grand strategy” statements. But that’s not what we need right now from our professionals. What we need is a scientific outlook, an abundance of solid empirical research, and the ability to convey empirically ascertainable facts and results to the public, in clear terms they can understand and which give them an accurate rendering of the global situation. The public is subjected to far too many unresolved debates such as the one between me and my imaginary opponent, with very little hard information to go on.


  20. JohnH says:

    Sounds like it’s time for Hollywood to update Dr. Strangelove, casting a McCain look-alike as Jack D. Ripper, Commander in Chief, instead of simply a commander of an airforce base…


  21. Kathleen says:

    I wish someone in the Press would ask McCain what he thinks about draft-dodgers… especially those who shirked their duty to defend our country while sending others for multiple tours of combat duty with inadequate armor, while profitting richly themselves. I want to know what he thinks about that.
    Being torutured is not a qualification to be President. Bomb. bomb, bom Iran is reckless, sick joke.


  22. Greg P says:

    I’ll have to forward this link to a few of my independent-minded friends and relatives who have mentioned that they are considering supporting McCain… Sad, in a way, because I found a lot of positives about the McCain of 2000 — but that John McCain doesn’t seem to be around anymore… on foreign policy at least.
    I know you’re not partisan and don’t tend to endorse candidates, but this post, I think, comes pretty close to an un-endorsement of McCain… so thanks for that.


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